The denigration of the teaching profession

By Laura Mayberry at Education Matters

The teaching profession is under attack. Union thugs. Lazy, tenured teachers and their bloated pensions. It wasn’t always this way. Our profession used to be respected. Oddly enough, many of the people who label our system broken and call for major reforms were taught in this very system. This can mean one of three things: (1) Why are we listening to people who are clearly undereducated, having been brought up in such a broken system? (2) These individuals are the oh-so-rare exception to the rule – they are smart and successful despite this system and we should listen to their sage words of advice, or (3) The system isn’t really broken and these individuals have something to gain from the reform movement.

The change in attitudes towards teachers is fairly recent. While unions and their employers have always butted heads, the general public was brought into the fight after the Great Recession. Cities across the country found that they could not meet their public employee pension obligations. Never mind that the underlying cause was that many of these pension funds made investments in assets that were later found to be toxic – a fact known to the banks and investment companies pawning them off on these unsuspecting municipalities. Teachers, police, and firefighters bore the brunt of the public’s anger.

I am the daughter of a 43-year teaching veteran. When I decided to go into teaching 12 years ago, my dad didn’t try to talk me out of it. I think he was proud. I’ll never forget the moment we were walking through a store and a teenager walked by and said “Hey, Mayberry!” My dad looked confused and said “I don’t remember teaching her.” I said, “No, dad, she was talking to me.” We both laughed, and I knew that the rest of my life would be full of these encounters. In my 11 years of teaching economics, I’ve had the privilege to teach almost 3,000 students. Every time one of them tracks me down after graduation to tell me that they started an IRA or saved money on a car loan because of what they learned in my class, I know that I’ve made the right career decision. What other profession can claim this type of impact on their community? I love what I do, which makes it painful for me to hear my own students say that they want to go into this embattled profession. Some of my colleagues discourage them. Some of their parents do too. I try to remain neutral, but it gets harder each day.

When society attacks teachers, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are accused of being minions, manipulated and controlled by their union, what message is being sent to our students? When teachers are given scripted lessons and reduced to little more than test monitors, what message is being sent to our students? When schools and teachers are graded on things that are not entirely under their control, what message is being sent to our students?

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